“It’s a beautiful day outside, and it’s a beautiful day to graduate law school!” said a beaming Dean and President Anthony W. Crowell to thunderous applause.
For the first time since 2019, New York Law School graduates convened in person for the 130th Commencement Exercises—a joyful return to in-person ceremony and celebration. The NYLS community honored the Classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 at the famed Barclays Center in the heart of Brooklyn on May 26, 2022, reveling in the togetherness.
Graduates and faculty had entered the arena in their full regalia to raucous cheers from assembled loved ones over the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” and Verdi’s “Triumphal March.” As they took their seats, Dean Crowell introduced a surprise performance from three Broadway performers: Saint Aubyn, John Clay, III, and Kristolyn Lloyd, who brought the house down with a rendition of “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”
After a performance of the national anthem by graduate Krystina Garda ’22, Dean Crowell called the ceremony to order—another in what would become a long succession of joyful moments over the course of the afternoon. He thanked community members in attendance: retiring faculty, ceremony honorees, alumni, and more. And, he offered a clear message to the graduates as they enter a deeply uncertain world:
“Without lawyers, we have no democracy. Creating real and enduring change is very hard, it won’t happen overnight, and you can work a lifetime trying to achieve it like so many of your professors have done. There are so many forces—people and organizations alike—which thrive on chaos and oppressing others. But courageous leadership, unbreakable integrity, genuine empathy, and an appreciation for the long game will allow you to win out in the end. It simply has to.”
Academic Dean William P. LaPiana stepped up to award prizes. With three years to cover, a large group of awardees were recognized. The Otto L. Walter Distinguished Writing Awards for full-time faculty included Professor Kris Franklin (2020 book award), Professor Edward A. Purcell Jr. (2021 book award), Professor Lisa F. Grumet (2020 article award), Professor Richard Chused (2021 article award), and Professor Justin Murray (2022 article award).
The Otto L. Walter Distinguished Writing Awards for adjunct faculty include Professor Paul B. Marrow (2021 article award) and Professor Andrew C. Brunsden (2022 article award).
The Otto L. Walter Distinguished Writing Awards for students honored Shawn Bass ’20, Caroline McGuire ’20, Abigail DeMasi ’21, Heidi Goldsmith ’21, Hayley Jones ’22, and Kirsten Kovats ’22.
The community heard from two student speakers from each graduation class, beginning with Kevon Weekes ’20 Evening and Jasmine Bridges ’20. Weekes, who was a paralegal throughout law school and is now an Assistant Corporation Counsel with the New York City Law Department in the Bronx, spoke to the resilience of her graduating class and the “brightness” in the Class of 2020’s story, even as they faced unprecedented challenges. “I could not be prouder to be part of a graduating class where—despite the challenges of the last two years—our common bonds have ensured that our commitment has not waivered, our voices have not lowered, and our fight and desire for justice and representation has not weakened,” she said.
Bridges spoke about her law degree as a promise made good: “I came to NYLS wanting to be a forceful advocate for justice on behalf of those who are too often unseen or underrepresented, and thanks to my time at NYLS, I’ve been doing just that,” she said, noting that she won her first court case a public defender in a Brooklyn courtroom just a 15-minute walk from the Barclays Center. She now works as an Assistant Public Defender for 12th Judicial Circuit in Florida.
Maraya Aboly-Brown ’21 and Omar Rafiq ’21 Evening followed. Aboly-Brown, who is now a Manhattan Assistant District Attorney, offered a charge to her fellow graduates: “This is our time! So be bold, be consistent, and be a good person. Today you have made your 10-year-old self proud. Now is that time to be the lawyer that will make your 65-year-old self even prouder.”
Rafiq, who was a member of the NYPD throughout law school and is now a Queens Assistant District Attorney, spoke to the community behind every NYLS graduate: “At NYLS, I didn’t have a shortage of cheerleaders, Professor Kirk D. Burkhalter ’04 always gave me a nudge when he thought I was slacking off, Dean Oral Hope shared good laughs with me when I needed a break, and my friends stayed in the library with me all weekend reading and explaining concepts to one another.”
Dean LaPiana presented the Alfred L. Rose Award for Excellence to a number of students: Torey Marston ’20, Jordyn Paperny ’20, Louise Tatum ’20, Marc Walkow ’20, Michael Falbo ’21, Heidi Goldsmith ’21, Francesca Rogo ’21, Nirali Shah ’21, Harini Maragh ’22, and Nina Motlagh ’22.
The final student remarks came from John Paul Dominguez ’22 Evening and Emily Gibbons ’22. Dominguez, who was a paralegal throughout law school and will be an associate at Blank Rome this fall, spoke to the camaraderie of the Evening Division, and in a particularly delightful moment, offered thanks to his mother, who appeared on the arena’s massive screens to a standing ovation. Gibbons, who is pursuing a career in real estate law, invoked something Professor Gerald Korngold had told her Property class during a period of utter exhaustion right before exams. “The crocuses are coming!” Professor Korngold said. “Crocuses,” Gibbons explained, “are flowers that symbolize the beginning of spring. They bloom bright and early, bringing much needed color after a long winter and lead the way for other spring bloomers to follow.” On a day as bright and sunny as Commencement day in the midst of a long winter, it was a particularly poignant reminder that spring follows the cold and bleak.
Dean Crowell awarded the President’s Medal for 2021 to Joan Fishman ’21 (Hon), Associate Dean (Retired), NYLS; George H. Hayes, Vice President of Institutional Project Management (Retired), NYLS; and Susan Redler, Vice President of Finance, NYLS, (Retired). All three were recognized for extraordinary contributions in building the School over a combined century of service. Dean Crowell awarded the 2022 President’s Medal to Beth Blauer ’01, Associate Vice Provost for Public Innovation; Executive Director, Centers for Civic Impact, Johns Hopkins University, for her innovative leadership in expanding the nation’s understanding of the real-time impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when there was no other comprehensive source of information on cases and community disparities.
Dean Crowell followed by awarding the Kathleen Grimm Medal. Recipients included Kathlyn H. Salazar ’20, Maraya Aboly-Brown ’21, Fatin Assaf ’22, Joseph H. Rochman ’22, and Fatima Rustemi ’22.
Judge Judy Sheindlin ’65 was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree (LL.D.) by Board Chair Arthur N. Abbey ’59 and Nicole Sheindlin ’93, the Judge’s daughter. After accepting her award, Judge Sheindlin began her Commencement address. She started with a celebration of Dean Crowell and his 10th anniversary as NYLS’s Dean and President, praising his care for the students, devotion to the School, and unique lack of ego in his leadership. She even asked to come back and speak at his 20th anniversary. (Dean Crowell smiled and gave a thumbs up.)
Judge Sheindlin delivered a rousing address, drawing on her own personal experiences and relaying the takeaways she’d gleaned over the course of her life. She recounted her childhood in Brooklyn, growing up on Ocean Avenue, where she gained her street smarts—particularly when developing a strategy to cross the busy boulevard mid-block. (It’s not an easy feat—then or now.) With those lessons, she flourished, particularly in law school, at a time when very few women were in attendance. Frustrated and motivated by a male professor who asked why she was taking the seat of a man who would actually use his law degree (the crowd erupted in boisterous boos), she worked hard to succeed. “No tenured professor was going to define me,” she said. “Let no one define you.” She also flourished in the profession, including on the bench. Her words of wisdom included: “Reach your potential—and remember it’s your potential, not someone else’s vision of your potential,” “only a fool makes the same mistakes twice,” “if you have a choice of being liked or respected, choose both,” and “you only have one chance to make a first impression.” Judge Sheindlin was interrupted multiple times for enthusiastic rounds of applause, laughter at her quips and asides, and cheers of agreement with her life lessons.
Following the Commencement address, Johnny T. Vasser Jr. ’11, President of the New York Law School Alumni Association, offered a warm welcome to the new graduates to the alumni community.
Thus began the process of conferring degrees to the three classes’ candidates. Among many special moments were ones where legacy graduates were handed their diplomas by parents and other family members who had graduated from the School’s earlier classes. This included Sarah Rose Levy ’22, whose diploma was presented to her by Judge Sheindlin, her grandmother. Once all of the names were read and diplomas were handed out by Dean Crowell, Chair Abbey conferred the degrees, marking the passage from student to graduate.
Dean Crowell closed the ceremony with thanks to the community and gratitude for the opportunity to come together. Confetti poured into the arena shouts of delight from the graduates and audience, who posed for pictures, embraced, and celebrated with each other.
Watch the Commencement address from Judge Judy Sheindlin ’65
See photos from the 130th Commencement Exercises
Watch the ceremony video
Watch a congratulatory video from NYLS faculty and staff
Read the 130th Commencement program